Would you employ a dog if you thought it was suited to the job? Imagine you are looking at a Youtube video: a dog – golden retriever – is speaking to camera telling you why it is a good candidate for the position, and the pitch is pretty convincing – you might actually hire this dog!
The talking dog video was created by a student for a unit run by Monash teacher and academic Dr. Matthew Piscioneri. When we caught up with Matthew he showed us the video as an example of how students in his online tutorials sometimes use animated avatars in their presentations, and that while the result can be slightly unnerving and funny, it can also be surprisingly effective. The use of avatars is just one of the techniques Matthew employs to break down barriers for a better study experience for his students.
Matthew has recently been recognised for his innovative teaching approach using online tutorials for distance and disabled students, receiving a ‘Teacher Innovation and Impact Award’ from the Vice-Provost (Learning and Teaching).
The award is designed to reward small changes that create a big impact on teaching and learning at Monash, and Professor Rae Frances, Dean of Monash Faculty of Arts, said of Matthew’s award, “This award recognises Matthew’s commitment to teaching and student learning and demonstrates the Faculty’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Matthew said it was his time on Academic Progress Committee that really opened his eyes to what can be going on in the background for students, and what some have had to overcome just to get to tutorials (which are mandated (compulsory) for a 75% attendance rate.)
“I got a shock when I found out that students were coming from as far away as Geelong, and I thought this travelling time could be spent better,” said Matthew. “I’ve also had a bit to do with the disabilities liaison unit, and you realise that so many students have issues going on in the background to their study, and so the online tutorials were meant to address that.”
Matthew decided to explore ways that technology and online learning can make a difference by using synchronous and non-synchronous tools including movenote and anymeeting. Some units were delivered wholly online, whilst for others there was an option to do tutorials either face to face or online. Matthew found where the option existed, about 20 percent of students took up the online option.
He also discovered things were not always as he expected. For example, he found that although video might seem like a good solution for replacing the face to face experience of a tutorial, in the context of online tutorial, video can be distracting and even confronting.
“It’s a really interesting one,” said Matthew. “Research has been done that shows that students prefer slides and audio, and not necessarily video…,” and he laughed when he added,”… of their ageing lecturer – and I don’t blame them!”
Matthew said that online tools also gave students the choice of whether to see an image of their lecturer, and he said it was interesting to see how many students chose to have the ‘audio only’ option.
Matthew has even used avatars himself to introduce an online tutorial, setting the tone and introducing an element of humour to put people at ease and show a human side.
“Often teachers sit around and talk about how they can get more engagement in their tutorials. I remember being a first year student and being petrified with lack of self confidence, so possibly online might help some people overcome this, ” said Matthew. “When the lecturer/teacher starts to play around with different platforms then it gives students permission to try something similar, to stretch themselves.”
So how has the response been to these new ways of learning? Matthew said he is still waiting for formal ‘SETU’ results (University wide system for getting student feedback), but anecdotally the feedback has been very positive.
Matthew also says the award from the Learning and Teaching area is a great endorsement for education innovation at Monash, and he found the award application process was a very positive experience for him. Applicants were asked to present their application as a three minute video, and this helped Matthew to focus his message and reflect on the essence of what had been achieved.
“I’m an education focused academic so it’s nice to see the University (through Better Teaching Better Learning) being so supportive,” said Matthew.
Matthew teaches Professional Writing, Advanced Professional Writing and English for Academic Purposes, and his recent research evaluating student preferences for modes of teaching and learning resource delivery is closely linked to his teaching. Matthew has been working with KMUTT University in Thailand sharing techniques and strategies from the Monash experience, and he is also looking at working with a University in Cambodia who are about to roll out that country’s first online program.
Matthew works for Monash Academic and Professional Writing (APW) where students learn strategies for powerful and effective writing, and how to use English at University and in professional work beyond. Based in the School of Media, Film and Journalism, APW units are open to students across the University, with students come from Business and Economics, Science, Medicine.
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